2020: It started off so promising (and futuristic)…

2020 was going to be a year that was going to be very disruptive for Digital 55, kicking off with a month-long trip to Austin in March for the complete SXSW and SXSWedu festival, attending seminars, events, concerts and showcases at the intersections of film, interactive media, music, and education. This was big! Here, finally, was our chance to rub elbows with Netflix, Youtube, and so many other big players in the distribution, media, learning and original content space. And of course, eating as many tacos as we could!

We’ve been continuously creating interactive digital media and learning content for our clients and collaborators but we’ve recently kicked off an original content slate under Digital 55. This changes the model of the business, the impact we can have in the world and it also changes the future valuation of the company by creating important IP. So needless to say, we were pumped and excited to be able to invest that time at SXSW, building the future of the company.

But we had a capital B, bad feeling heading into the week. COVID cases were on the rise. Governments and businesses alike were beginning to implement new measures in an effort to “flatten the curve”. Several major companies, including Amazon Studios, Apple, Netflix, Facebook, and CNN/Time Warner withdrew their SXSW showcases and announced they would not be travelling to the conference. 

And then the news dropped. SXSW was cancelled, along with everything else under the sun and we can remember that moment so clearly. The evening before we were to fly out, we got the news that the conference was cancelled and Austin was in a state of emergency. We just knew that the world was going to be forever changed and humans were about to go through something unimaginable. And as we spent the next week at home in Toronto, we felt confused, alarmed, out of sync with our surroundings and plagued with inevitable doom. 

That was the beginning and that moment will be forever etched in our minds.

Don’t look back in anger

Looking back, March 2020 did, in some ways, represent the start of a new phase for Digital 55– albeit not as we intended and for reasons we could never have imagined. Physical distancing emerged as one of the defining features of day-to-day life in 2020. As a result, digital has taken over every aspect of our existence (dance parties on zoom, working out on zoom, learning on zoom, zoom on zoom). We depend on digital platforms like Zoom, Slack, and cloud-based drives to work and learn like never before. For many companies, this has meant introducing new platforms and processes into their workflows. But it has also challenged them to reimagine how they disseminate knowledge and information, facilitate connection, cultivate new skills, and foster safe, inclusive spaces for critical thought, engagement, and creativity. 

Fortunately, for us, exploring the role of digital tech and media – and how it intersects in our systems and lives – is our jam! With all its challenges, 2020 has not been short of opportunities to explore many things more deeply and across a range of varied and unprecedented circumstances. This past year, we have worked with our clients and collaborators to reimagine what is possible in the context of digital learning and complex storytelling. We translated live learning experiences into online delivery, provided customized support for classroom-based instructors transitioning to the online space, and designed an award-winning, digital learning experience for leaders navigating COVID-related workplace challenges (you can check that out here). Many of these projects were intense, with quick turnaround times, evolving subject matter and important for organizations and learners to have right away. Sometimes we felt almost like journalists, tackling things that were happening in real-time and with unknown impact or importance. But we also grew through these endeavours – building on our knowledge and experience, expanding our team, and repositioning ourselves as future-thinking content producers. 

Purpose in a digital world

Working in digital means taking the time to understand the possibilities a digital experience can create– to consider and take advantage of its ability to facilitate communication, spread information and stories, connect remote and disparate individuals, and cultivate new forms of community and belonging. We have always focused on facilitating equitable access to knowledge. But recently, the needs have changed: our access to information has become overwhelming. Individuals risk drowning in the scores of information and misinformation at their disposal. As a result, competencies such as critical thinking, digital and media literacy, and cross-cultural skills have become key to successfully navigating and participating in today’s world. Our purpose continues to be promoting disruptive learning and building authentic thinking through our work and our collaborations.

We’ve also had to recognize digital’s very real, tangible limitations. While there is much we can accomplish through digital,  real, actual human connection remains vital for our growth and wellbeing. We are excited for this to return – to be able to experience the digital alongside our analog lives once more, with greater intention and purpose. 


Lauralee + Kaila

Ps - Austin and SXSW, we will see you in 2022!

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